How I use my Note Cards

For many writers and students, note cards (also known as index cards) are one of the best tools for planning large works and organising ideas. I use them all the time as part of my analogue note-taking setup, but also at my desk when I’m working through big ideas.

Conceptually, cards can exist on their own, or be grouped together into sequences or categories. Each card can be moved around spatially and reordered in ways that normal notebook pages cannot. This allows easy ordering and random access.

The physical limitations of the card help keep the content short and to the point. Having both a front and back helps add an extra dimension, if required.

In my system, the cards are used in addition to my notebooks and digital tools for many things, including:

  • Forming and processing ideas into groups or sequences
  • Planning order and estimated effort of tasks
  • Making disposable notes for myself or other people
  • Writing down phone numbers and details for calls to make
  • Testing pens and ink (this happens regularly!)
  • Anything random I don’t want to keep
  • Doodles (like below!)

Note Cards Doodles

I have found the business card size to be better for my usage. I get blank ones with rounded edges from eBay – they’re cheap to buy in bulk and I’m happy with the quality for now. I used to use full size note cards, and certainly enjoyed using them, but now I’ve tried the smaller size, I find the larger ones to be too big for most of my tasks.

For me, the main benefit of their size is their portability. You can fit business cards into slots for bank cards as well as dedicated containers like portable business card cases, archive boxes, and other organisers. There’s no way I could fit a full size index card into my wallet!

Note Cards and Wallet

Here’s an example of use when planning to make a phone call.

When I am going through my notebook on an evening, I may write down the details of a call to make to a utility company the next day. I would still write down the task in my notebook, but the phone number, account details, and any other bits of relevant information would be on the note card in my wallet.

Making the call could be done anywhere, as I always have my wallet in my pocket.

When I am done, I would tick the task in my notebook and copy down any new information gained from the call. After that, the note card can be either disposed of or stored for future reference. Though I don’t currently keep an archive of these cards, but I may want to in the future. Right now I copy the information down into Field Notes or OneNote as required, then put the card itself in the recycling.

Note Cards

I recently got a repositionable glue stick, which has similar properties to the glue on the back of a Post-it note.

When you use this glue on the back of one of these note cards it can be used just like a Post-it note, including repositioning and sticking to walls. I will see how often I use this over time, but I did use this method at the start of the year in order to priorities projects and move ideas around. Sticking them on my wall helped keep my desk clear while I was grouping and ordering.

Finally, I’d like to see this size of card gain more of a following. It would be fantastic to see a company like Nock Co. produce their DotDash cards in business card sizes. They are probably my favourite of the full size 3 × 5 note cards on the market, but I have yet to find anything of this quality in the business card size.

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Analogue Note-Taking System for 2016

For 2016, I have changed my analogue note taking system for the first time since I started using two Moleskine notebooks in 2012.

The centre of my 2016 setup is an Arts & Science leather case for the A6 Hobonichi Techo. I went for the bright option with this vivid orange, a colour which I often link to energy.

It looks absolutely gorgeous and feels great to hold.


When closed, the whole kit is a similar size to the dual Moleskine notebooks I used to carry. It’s a little shorter and wider, but generally, they feel to be around the same size in terms of having something to carry around.


One of the benefits of using this case is that the whole thing zips up to keep the notebooks inside, nice and safe. This means that, rather than carrying two Moleskine notebooks and a pencil case, I can now just carry the single case with me every day.

Right now, I have the following items inside:

  • 2016 Hobonichi Techo (A6, Japanese)
  • Two Field Notes Notebooks (XOXO Conference 2015, DDC Dead Print)
  • Seven note cards (one currently used)
  • Bookmark (a thankyou card from Landland)
  • Arts & Science Pencil Board
  • A Minecraft sticker I acquired last week


This is simply a snapshot of time at the start of 2016 while writing this article. The items inside will change over the year, with the Field Notes changing at least monthly. Most times I’ll only have one Field Notes, but there’s a lot going on at the start of this year so I’ve started with two.


Opening up the case reveals the notebooks inside. The Hobonichi Techo is on the right hand side, easy to open and look things up. I usually take it out when I’m going to be at a desk for hours, but I can also write and review various things directly in the notebook when it is still in the case.

I will write some more about the Hobonichi Techo in a couple of weeks, but I mostly use this for time-based planning and daily journaling, rather than some of the more creative uses that the notebook is famous for.

I do like to customise the outside though, and both sides are covered in stickers.


I fell in love with Field Notes in 2015 and now I use them for just about anything. If I have only one Field Notes notebook with me, then I tend to put it in the left hand pocket as above. Since I am using two at the moment, I tend to just put them inside rather than stuffing the pocket.


I also like to have a Band of Rubber on hand for if I need to hold them together.

Anything goes in these notebooks. I burn through these books faster than anything else, and mostly they’re used to record current thoughts, plans and help support my longer term goals.


The pocket on the left also includes a couple of card slots. I use them with some blank, white note cards that are used for rough notes, ideas, and pretty much anything that I used to use index cards for – just in a smaller form factor. I don’t like to tear pages out of my Field Notes, so this is what I use if I need take a note for somebody else.

I’ll write some more about my use of these cards soon, but I find that this form factor is much more useful to me than index cards. They easily fit in a wallet too.


On the right, there’s a slot for a pen, and my current pen of choice is the Jetstream Prime (single version – I reviewed the multipen version a while back) with a 0.7 mm black refill. This has become by far my favourite go-to pen of choice, so it gets the pride of place here.


Obviously, I am a huge stationery nerd and I can’t just have one pen, so I still keep a main pencil case, which I also carry if I’m using my work bag or something similar. It’s an optional extra though, so it’s not always with me.

This is also a snapshot in time, but here is what’s inside right now:


The Kuru Toga is favourite of mine and it still gets plenty of regular use. I’ve also found myself using the Uni-ball Air with large sheets of A4 to work my way through some ideas I have. I find it to be much more enjoyable than a Jetstream when working on a bigger scale or sketching rather than writing.


Most of the other items in my pencil case are going to change fairly regularly. I like to try new things so I often put pens or pencils in here for me to experiment with on a whim. An example is the Field Notes No 2 pencil: it has been there for a couple of weeks, but I simply have not used it yet.


There are a few other extras I often tend to use. A cotton bag for the Arts & Science Hobonichi case, a DDC Stuff Sheath, and a Field Notes Band of Rubber – just in case.


I regularly use the DDC Stuff Sheath when just carrying a single Field Notes notebook with me. It’s a fantastic little leather sheath that can be used for anything, but easily fits a couple of Field Notes and other loose materials.

I have this on hand when I need it and often carry it with the Arts & Science leather case for my Hobonichi. They make a great pair.


Like the pencil case, it’s an optional extra, but it’s most helpful when I am travelling or visiting somewhere and want to take a single notebook out with me.

It’s way durable and very orange.


Also worth a mention, is my seemingly never-ending supply of Field Notes notebooks. I keep these at home and choose a different one as soon as I finish the one I’m using. I love working my way through the many designs I have and I’m enjoying each one of the differences in paper and manufacturing techniques.

These are the fundamentals of what I’m planning to use for 2016. It’s quite different to the way I worked before, but I feel that it allows me more flexibility and the ability to write more often with my analogue tools. I feel more connected to analogue note-taking than I ever have.

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